A goal in the final minutes gave Maungakaramea's premier women's hockey team a thrilling 3-2 win over Hikurangi on Saturday.
After a back-and-forth tussle between the two sides, Maungakaramea were awarded a crucial penalty corner with just four minutes to go and the scores locked at 2-2. A timely tap-in from Emily Luxford after the initial shot proved the difference at the Whangārei Hockey Centre.
With Hikurangi sitting in fifth at the bottom of the Northland premier women's hockey table with no wins and five losses, their tie against fourth-placed Maungakaramea was an essential one to gain confidence from for the rest of the season.
The game started in a flurry with Maungakaramea taking the play to Hikurangi, who were happy to absorb pressure and react on the counter. After a number of clear chances for both sides, dynamic forward Kyra Manahi tucked the first goal home for Hikurangi after a fortunate rebound in the opposition circle.
Manahi, who was the youngest player in the team at 15, was a shining light for Hikurangi and her speed, stamina and agility caused problems for the Maungakaramea defence. Along with Tiana Currie, the pair gave Hikurangi some much-needed inspiration through their skill and physicality.
Maungakaramea's persistence did not waver after conceding and they continued to have the majority of the chances in front of goal. Maungakaramea's Isi Thormann equalised with an easy finish after the opposition lost the ball with two minutes left in the first quarter.
The second quarter continued along the same vein, with neither side claiming complete control of its outcome. Maungakaramea had a larger share of possession and territory, but both sides had their opportunities to put their team further ahead on the scoreboard.
Hikurangi keeper Rebecca Hudson was resolute in face of a relentless Maungakaramea forward pack, making numerous saves to bail out a sometimes failing defence in front of her.
The deadlock wasn't broken until only 13 minutes remained in the game when Maungakaramea's Natasha Cotton strolled past about five Hikurangi defenders to score her side's second goal.
But Maungakaramea's misfortune in front of goal continued as Cotton could have had another goal minutes later, while her teammate Thormann missed an open goal with eight minutes left to seal the victory.
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Hikurangi recognised the opportunity to level the game and through a great effort started and finished by Manahi, the score was back at 2-2 with six minutes to play.
Rightly or wrongly, the call came from the umpire which gave Maungakaramea the penalty corner and the win after the game's fifth goal with the score remaining 3-2.
"To be fair, we were probably lucky to come away with that [result]," Maungakaramea coach Tama Jones.
"It wasn't necessarily in the last call but both teams had their chances and the game could have swung either way at any point."
Jones said he was unsure why the final penalty corner was called but was happy to take the points in face of some serious work-ons for the team going forward.
"Certainly we'll take the points because we've got to be up there but we've got a long way to go.
"For us, the frustrating thing is we are not developing in terms of how we want to play as quickly as we want, so we are still playing with an individual-based approach, but we are trying to play a lot more collectively.
"With the way the teams are playing this year, there is a chance of missing out [on the finals] so you've got to make sure you accumulate points throughout the season and keep yourself in the race at the end."
Hikurangi coach Roland Price was gutted with the result and felt his side was hard done by with the penalty corner decision.
"They gave a penalty corner, it should never have been a corner in the first place," he said.
"I thought our girls really deserved, at least, to get the draw out of it, but in saying that we should have put the ball away when we had the chance."
Price said his team's defensive effort was not strong enough against a skilful Maungakaramea attack, letting in too many shots on goal. Despite this, Price credited young forward Manahi who took advantage of the team's solid foundations.
"[Manahi] has got skills and speed but [the forwards] get the ball because of the ones behind them, so they create the goals but we look at starting from the back and working forward," he said.
"We are improving every week and we used to be a team which really struggled to put a team on the field, but now we've got a good squad and the team atmosphere is really good and everything's getting better each week."
In the round's other game, Old Girls broke Springfield's seven-game winning streak with a last-minute goal to take the 1-0 victory. In the premier men's competition, Springfield beat Maungakaramea 2-0 and Mangapai clawed back a 2-0 deficit at halftime to win 3-2.